Monday, July 31, 2006

Malpensa? Mal Experiencia more like.

The flight to Barcelona was not quite as simple as I had hoped. The first couple of legs went OK - trouble free drive down to Otopeni, followed by slightly delayed flight to Milan Malpensa (badly thought out) Airport. But from that point things started to unravel. I checked the board to find the gate for my connection and saw the dreaded word "Annulato". Now I don't really speak much Italian, but I knew what that meant. I ask at the information desk who told me to go through to the gate area and ask at the info desk there. So I did, and the woman told me to go down, get my bags, go back up to the check-in area and ask there. She thought there vwas a strike, she said. And so it proved. Once I had picked up my bag, and in so doing making a number of new friends trapped in a similar boat (the bags took an age to show up). So we traipsed off up to the check in area, and there was a massive queue of people standing dejectedly in line. So we joined.

Slowly rumours started to circulate. There was a strike at Barcelona airport. There was a strike at all Spanish airports. They would fly us to Gerona, not far from Barcelona. They would fly us to Valencia. They would fly us to Madrid and we would have to make our own way to Barcelona. Eventually a young woman appeared at the desk to make an announcement. The crowd surged forward and started shouting as one, though I have no idea what she said such was the noise and the number of people. It was obviously not good news though. More rumours filtered back. By this time I didn't believe anything.

A few minutes later though, I saw the same young woman alone elsewhere in the airport and went off to ask her. Her badge identified her as a "Passenger Assistant" which I can only assume meant she was one of the lowest paid people on the Alitalia ladder and was even more sorry for the way she'd been put in the line of fire in front of all those furious people. I patiently enquired as to the problem and learned that there was, indeed, a strike at BCN, but nowhere else. That they couldn't send us to another nearby airport since they were all over full already (this of course was the Friday of the biggest travel weekend of the year in Europe), that every airline was trying to redirect their flights to Valencia and Madrid, but that the chances of us having our plane sent there were almost nil. It became clear that at the very least I would be spending a night in Milan. One of my new-found travelling companions, an American woman named Eve, was really desperate, since her 13 year old son was in Barcelona and she was flying to meet him and then to fly home to Boston together. I lent her my phone, since hers had expired, and she made a number of probably ludicrously expensive calls to Spain, the US, back to Spain, and back to the US again. This act of kindness, however, proved to be my masterstroke. Later Eve slipped off to find out what our options were and in that patient yet pushy way that Americans excel at, managed to get put in touch with a Maria Anna who was some kind of airport supervisor. When she heard her plight, Maria Anna was distraught as any good Italian mother would be "Your son? Alone? In Barcelona? I will make you my top priority". By this time I had just learned that our options were to put ourselves on a waiting list for a flight to Valencia that night (which was already fully booked), to come back tomorrow morning and put ourselves on the waiting list for the flights to Barcelona that day, assuming the strike was over (even though they were also all fully booked - busiest travel weekend in Europe, don't forget), and, well, that was it. It didn't sound promising.

However, the Maria Anna connection was working. She agreed to put Eve on the next day's standby waiting list even though we had all been told that we couldn't go on it until the next day. Eve asked her if I could go on this list too as I had been so helpful, and it was agreed. Result.

And so it was that I found myself checking myself into an Italian hotel with a strange woman I had only just met. Seperate rooms, in case you were wondering. I know what your minds are like out there in Internet land. Had a delicious Italian dinner and crashed out. At 6.30 a.m. we were back on the shuttle to the airport as per Maria Anna's orders such that we could ensure we were all checked in and with the best chance of getting on the plane. The woman who checked us in, when asked about our chances, told us that they were basically nil since the flight was already oversold.

A while later Maria Anna showed up, having not gone home until 2am, but still looking as stylish as it is possible to do while wearing regulation Alitalia clothing, and gave us our options - there was a flight at 9.30 which would close (ie check-in would finish) at 9. Also at 9, there were two Alitalia buses leaving from the terminal to take the passengers from our plane to Barcelona (all the way to Barcelona. From Milan. On the Saturday of mayhem traffic everywhere in Southern Europe, particularly in the French Riviera which would constitute most of the route). At 8.45 we were to return to her office, and she would tell us whether she felt we had a chance of making the flight or whether we should get the bus.

After a long hour waiting we returned. Yes, things looked good, the flight hadn't yet filled, we'd probably make it. Go downstairs and find the stand by desk, and in the meantime here are two new standby boarding passes with VIP stamped on them (I'm saving mine - it'll be the last time I ever get described as a VIP).

This we did, and after a few more agonising minutes the flight closed and we were ushered onboard. On our way to Barcelona. Woohoo. I spared a thought for the others just setting off on their long bus journey, as I did a few more times throughout the day, notably as I sat on my friends' terrace, sipping wine and looking over the city that evening, wondering where exactly they'd got to by now. (Barcelona airport was still operating at less than half pace as the strike's effects wore off - luggage took over an hour to come off the plane, that kind of thing, but frankly, by that time, I didn't really care.)

And so I'm here. And the moral of this story is to be nice to people. It might pay off. If it hadn't been for Eve using my phone, I'd have been on that bus.

Oh, and by the way, that last post I wrote took ages to craft, and yet nobody mentioned how bloody brilliant it was. I mean come on people, give me a break here. Do you know how difficult it is to write all that much text in English without once using an "e"?


Romerican said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Romerican said...

What a saga! I can see you sitting on the veranda, uncorking another bottle, and laughing about how few kilometers all those poor fools had probably suffered through while speculating as to how many more those suckers had yet to go.

I remember my first time at Malpensa. Get off at the train station. Speak no Italian. Find no one who speaks English. See no signs whatsoever directing you to Malpensa. Eventually see people lined up at a nearby bus stop clutching what looks like air-travel-worthy luggage. Wait your turn, find the driver speaks a little English, discover this bus goes to a different airport which is not Malpensa. Wander around accosting strangers.

Finally find a businessman in a smart suit who speaks enough English to have a quick conversation, though he thinks you are positively insane for not being able to find Malpensa. When he gives you the very complicated directions on where to go, ask him to repeat not once but twice because you're not sure you understand and you are sure you won't find another English speaker. Locate the local shuttle terminal, miss the shuttle.

Arrive precisely 1 minute too late to be allowed on the flight although it is still sitting at the gate with the tunnel doors open and you can see other passengers idly waiting to be allowed to board just meters from you.

Beg, plead. Be redirected for new tickets to be issued. Have that flight canceled. Locate an eletrical plug to charge up your laptop only to find the wifi connection isn't free, but will cost you 10 euros every 5 minutes (or some such recollection).

Skip the rest of the story and eventually make it to your destination.

As for your e-less post, it was so brilliantly constructed and well written that no one missed the e at all.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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